Beach closed, dogs temporarily banned after wolf attack near Ucluelet

A series of wolf attacks has prompted the closure of Wickaninnish Beach near Ucluelet, B.C. as well as a ban on dogs for the entire Long Beach Unit of the Park.

That means dogs are banned from all areas of the park between Tofino and Ucluelet for one week.

Renee Wissink with Pacific Rim National Park reserve said the decision was made after two incidents in which wolves approached and attacked dogs in the area.

"Dogs off-leash are an easy target, and it appears the wolves are recognizing that," he said.

"We are particularly concerned about an incident where a leashed dog was attacked, which is rare."

Wissink said around 9,000 people bring their dogs to the area every year. 

He said while the temporary ban is a short-term measure, the National Park reserve is also looking into other techniques to halt the aggressive behaviour, including "hazing." The practice involves yelling, and using air horns and loud cracker pistols to discourage wolves from approaching humans.

'It was trying to kill my dog'

Isabel Flood, a Nanaimo resident visiting Ucluelet for spring break, said she was walking on the south side of the beach with her two young sons around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday when her dog Chester was attacked.

Flood said Chester, which she described as a medium-sized mix of collie and German shepherd, was running ahead of her when it was attacked by what she at first thought was another large dog.

"Whatever it was was attacking my dog so viciously that right away he was overwhelmed," she said. "It was trying to kill my dog."

She said she recognized it was a wolf after noting its huge size, and grew concerned for her children's safety.

As it tried to drag Chester into the woods, a couple approached and began yelling and throwing sticks and rocks at the wolf, causing it to run away. 

Chester received stitches for extensive bites on its neck, legs, and groin, and is expected to make a full recovery. 

"I totally let my boys clamber around the beach by themselves. I wouldn't do that there again," she said. 

"What if it had been my son up there ahead of me? I wouldn't have been prepared for that situation at all."

Flood said that despite the close encounter, she does not want the animal to be killed. 

"It's a wild animal, I don't want it to be destroyed. We all just need to be aware of how to be around them."

Behaviours linked

Daniel Eichstader, a conservation officer for the Port Alberni-Central Island zone, said this instinct to protect wildlife is often what prevents people from reporting animal attacks. 

"People are shy to report these incidents because they're scared that all we're going to do is going out and shoot these animals," he said.

"But if we get these calls early enough, we can intervene in that animal's behaviour before it gets to a point where it's a concern for public safety and has to be removed from the population."

Last November a wolf advisory was issued for Wickaninnish Beach after a man and his two dogs were surrounded by wolves. 

"I believe that these incidents are all linked behaviours." said Eichstader. 

"Most visitors are aware of cougars and bears but they also need to be aware that there are wolves in these areas, and they need to be prepared for those situations."

How to stay safe

Pacific Rim Park reserve has issued the following guidelines for handling wolf encounters:

- Hike in a group and make noise. 

- Stay alert and watch for signs of wolves like tracks or droppings.

- Keep small children close and dogs leashed.

- Back away slowly maintaining eye contact if you encounter a wolf.

- Yell, wave arms, try to look bigger.

- Throw rocks or use pepper spray if a wolf approaches.

- If the aggression escalates, fight back.

With files from Liz McArthur